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Introduction to Mass Communication

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Like all the complex objects, communication is also made up of certain basic things called elements.
A building has its elements in brick, sand, cement, iron, wood, paints and sanitary fittings. A machine has a
number of components which are all elements joined together to enable the machine to give desired results.
Communication is a complex business and involves certain elements which join together to help a message
go across.
In this chapter we will give a long sight to various elements which have been marked by experts and which
provide the very basics of any piece of communication however simple it may be.

Elements of communication

First and foremost is the person who sends a message. Known as sender in the jargons of
communication, he or she is the chief initiator of any communication. In fact a communication may not
take place if there is no sender. The sender may be singular and plural as well. It all depends on the nature
of communication. If a teacher is delivering lecture, it constitute a case of sender as one individual. Sender
comprising many is the case when a group of people shout together, or more than one person sing a song
as chorus.


When sender – the source of communication, decides to communicate he/she encodes the crux of
the feeling in words/gestures or any other form commonly understood. This encoded form is called
message. It may be a simple word or a very complex and technical integration of feelings by the source on a
given subject.


No sooner a message is created by a sender, it enters in the channel. The channel is part of the
communication process which helps carry the message to its desired destination. In case of printed words
paper is the channel, in the matter of voice air may serve as a channel. In telephonic conversation the wire
and the sets make the channel. Some times the channel itself becomes part of message and sometime
message is sent in a manner that a part of it serves as a channel.


The process of communication may not be complete if the message does not reach a person, or
persons, it is designed for. Receiver in this process is the element which is target of the message and actually
receives it. The dimension of receiver is very wide – it may vary from an individual to an army of people, or
a nation or all nations. Again, it depends what the message is.


Receiving message in most case is half the process of communication done. In most cases an
interpreter is required to understand – decode – the message so that the purpose of communication is
served. Noise always occurs at this stage. Noise means part of meaning which is lost from the original
message. There is hardly a message which is decoded, or interpreted cent per cent.


Sending and receiving of message is a simultaneous process in which the receiver continuously
sends back its approval or disapproval after having interpreted the message. This helps the sender to modify
or discipline its message. This element in the communication process is referred as feedback. For instance a
person is delivering speech, the voices, gestures and facial expressions – all part of feedback, would help the
speaker to check its loudness, smiles, rhetoric, contents or time to speak. If there is no feedback, the original
message may never shape accordingly which may distort the whole communication exercise.


Every message is delivered and received in a given context. Change in the background factors
denoted as context, may change the meanings altogether. Context itself comprises multiple factors each one
of them becomes essential when it comes to interpretation of the original message.

Communication Model

Communication experts have long been striving to arrange elements of communication into some
graphic arrangement so that all the complexities of communication may come in view in a glance. But
before we try to examine them lets try to understand what a model is.

What is a Model?

A model is a systematic representation of an object or event in idealized and abstract form. Models
are somewhat arbitrary by their nature.
Communication models are merely pictures; they’re even distorting pictures, because they stop or
freeze an essentially dynamic interactive or transitive process into a static picture.
Models are metaphors. They allow us to see one thing in terms of another.

The Shannon-Weaver’s Model of Communication

The Shannon-Weaver’s model is typical of what are often referred to as transmission models of
communication. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were two different entities that jointly produced a
model known after their names.
Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver produced a general model of communication:
This model is now known after them as the Shannon-Weaver’s Model. Although they were principally
concerned with communication technology, their model has become one which is frequently introduced to
students of human communication early in their study.
The Shannon-Weaver’s Model (1947) proposes that all communication processes must include following six








These six elements are shown graphically in the model. As Shannon was researching in the field of
information theory, his model was initially very technology-oriented. The model was produced in 1947.
The emphasis here is very much on the transmission and reception of information. 'Information' is
understood rather differently from the way you and I would normally use the term, as well. This model is
often referred to as an 'information model’ of communication.
Apart from its obvious technological bias, a drawback from our point of view is the model's obvious
linearity. It looks at communication as a one-way process. A further drawback with this kind of model is
that the message is seen as relatively unproblematic. It is fine for discussing the transformation of
'information' but when we try to apply the model to communication, problems arise with the assumption
that meanings are somehow contained within the message.

Detailed analysis of the model
The Source

All human communication has some source (information source in Shannon's terminology), some
person or group of persons with a given purpose, a reason for engaging in communication. You'll also find
the terms transmitter and communicator used.

The Encoder

You, as the source, have to express your purpose in the form of a message. That message has to be
formulated in some kind of code. How do the source's purposes get translated into a code? This requires an
encoder. The communication encoder is responsible for taking the ideas of the source and putting them in
code, expressing the source's purpose in the form of a message.
In person-to-person communication, the encoding process is performed by the motor skills of the source -
vocal mechanisms (lip and tongue movements, the vocal cords, the lungs, face muscles etc.), muscles in the
hand and so on. Some people's encoding systems are not as efficient as others'. So, for example, a disabled
person might not be able to control movement of their limbs and so find it difficult to encode the intended
non-verbal messages or they may communicate unintended messages.
A person who has suffered throat problem may have had their vocal cords removed. They can encode their
messages verbally using an artificial aid, but much of the non-verbal messages most of us send via pitch,
intonation, volume and so on cannot be encoded.
Shannon was not particularly concerned with the communication of meanings. In fact, it is Wilbur
Schramm's model of 1954 which places greater emphasis on the processes of encoding and decoding. We
will discuss threadbare Schramm’s model in next lecture with special emphasis on the provision of
interpretation of a message for a logical understanding of what has been sent by the source originally.

The Message

The message of course is what communication is all about. Whatever is communicated is the
Denis McQuail (1975) in his book Communication writes that the simplest way of regarding human
communication is 'to consider it as the sending from one person to another of meaningful messages'.
The Shannon-Weaver’s Model, in common with many others separates the message from other
components of the process of communication. In reality, though, you can only reasonably examine the
message within the context of all the other interlinked elements. Whenever we are in contact with other
people we and they are involved in sending and receiving messages. The crucial question for
Communication Studies is: to what extent does the message received correspond to the message
transmitted? That's where all the other factors in the communication process come into play.
The Shannon-Weaver’s model and others like it tends to portray the message as a relatively uncomplicated
matter. Note that this is not a criticism of Shannon since meanings were simply not his concern:
Frequently the messages have meaning that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with
certain physical or conceptual entities. (These considerations are irrelevant to the engineering problem).

The Channel

The words channel and medium are often used interchangeably, if slightly inaccurately. The
choice of the appropriate channel is a vitally important choice in communication. It's obvious that you don't
use the visual channel to communicate with the blind or the auditory channel with the deaf, but there are
more subtle considerations to be taken into account as well.

Physical noise

Shannon is generally considered to have been primarily concerned with physical (or 'mechanical' or
'engineering') noise in the channel, i.e. unexplained variation in a communication channel or random error
in the transmission of information. Everyday examples of physical noise are:
A loud motorbike roaring down the road while you're trying to hold a conversation.
Your little brother standing in front of the TV set.
Mist on the inside of the car windscreen.
Smudges on a printed page.
'Snow' on a TV set.
It might seem odd to use the word noise in this way. In this technical sense, 'noise' is not necessarily
audible. Thus a TV technician might speak of a 'noisy picture'. However, it is possible for a message to be
distorted by channel overload. Channel overload is not due to any noise source, but rather to the channel
capacity being exceeded. You may come across that at a party where you are holding a conversation amidst
lots of others going on around you or, perhaps, in a communication lesson where everyone has split into
small groups for discussion.
Shannon and Weaver were primarily involved with the investigation of technological communication. Their
model is perhaps more accurately referred to as a model of information theory (rather than communication
theory). Consequently, their main concern was with the kind of physical (or mechanical) noise discussed
Transfer of a mismatch between the encoding and decoding devices to the study of human communication
and you're looking at what is normally referred to as semantic noise That concept then leads us on to the
study of social class, cultural background, experience, attitudes, beliefs and a whole range of other factors
which can introduce noise into communication.

Semantic noise

Semantic noise is not as easy to deal with as physical noise. It might not be an exaggeration to say
that the very essence of the study of human communication is to find ways of avoiding semantic noise.
Semantic noise is difficult to define. It may be related to people's knowledge level, their communication
skills, their experience, and their prejudices and so on. It all depends on the commonality of experiences on
part of the receiver to understand message from sender.

The Decoder

The notion of a decoder reminds us that it is quite possible for a person to have all the equipment
required to receive the messages you send (all five senses, any necessary technology and so on) and yet be
unable to decode your messages.

The Receiver

For communication to occur there must be somebody at the other end of the channel. This person
or persons can be called the receiver. To put it in Shannon's terms, information transmitters and receivers
must be similar systems. If they are not, communication cannot occur. (Actually Shannon used the term
destination, reserving the term receiver for what we have called decoder.
What that probably meant as far as he was concerned was that you need a telephone at one end and a
telephone at the other, not a telephone connected to a radio. In rather more obviously human terms, the
receiver needs to have the equipment to receive the message. A totally blind person has the mental
equipment to decode your gestures, but no system for receiving messages in the visual channel. So, your
non-verbal messages are not received and you're wasting your energy.

1949 – Shannon- Weaver’s Model of Communication

Feedback is a vital part of communication. In the class room students’ facial expression tell the
teacher to go to what extent to make students understand the point under discussion. More or less, these
expression would guide the teacher where and when to finish.
When we are talking to someone over the phone, if they don't give us the occasional 'mmmm', 'aaah', 'yes, I
see' and so on, it can be very disconcerting. In face-to-face communication, we get feedback in the visual
channel as well - head nods, smiles, frowns, changes in posture and orientation, gaze and so on.
Why do people often have difficulty when using computers, when they find it perfectly easy to drive a car?
You'd think it should be easier to operate a computer - after all there are only a few keys and a mouse, as
against levers, pedals and a steering wheel. A computer's not likely to kill you, either. It could be due to the
lack of feedback - in a car, you've the sound of the engine, the speed of the landscape rushing past, the
force of gravity. Feedback is coming at you through sight, hearing and touch -overdo it and it might come
through smell as well. With a computer, there's very little of that. In fact you apply more of your brain as
what you must be doing next rather than shaping your activity whether it’s being liked or not by the

Feedback by definition

In its simplest form the feedback principle means that a behavior is tested with reference to its
result and success or failure of this result influences the future behavior
Though not exactly cut-out for human communication, the Shannon-Weaver model provides clear
guidelines for researchers to mark more avenues for graphic presentation of the elements in daily human

Lasswell Formula (1948)

The sociologist, Harold Lasswell, tells us that in studying communication we should consider the elements
in the graphic above.
Lasswell was primarily concerned with mass communication and propaganda, so his model is intended to
direct us to the kinds of research we need to conduct to answer his questions ('control analysis', 'effects
research' and so on). In fact, though, it is quite a useful model, whatever category of communication we are
studying. Note, incidentally, that the Lasswell Formula consists of five major components, though this is by
no means obligatory.
Harold Lasswell (1948) conceived of analyzing the mass media in five stages: “Who?” “Says what?” “In
which/what channel?” “To whom?” “With what effect?” In apparent elaboration on Lasswell and/or
Shannon and Weaver, George Gerbner (1956) extended the components to include the notions of
perception, reactions to a situation, and message context.

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